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ISA of the Day: Clay Epstein of Arclight Films

ISA of the Day: Clay Epstein of Arclight Films

Our International Sales Agent (ISA) of the Day coverage has resumed for
this year’s Cannes Film Festival. We will feature successful, upcoming,
innovative and trailblazing agents from around the world (during and after the
festival) and cover the latest trends in sales and distribution. Beyond the
numbers and deals, this segment will also share inspirational and unique
stories of how these individuals have evolved and paved their way in the
industry, and what they envision for the new waves in global cinema. 

 

Clay
Epstein is the Senior Vice President of Sales and Acquisitions for Arclight
Films, a leading international film sales company with a strong global reach,
including the Easternlight and Darclight brands that rule in the Asian and
genre markets. Arclight has a long list of titles that spans across the genres,
including epic period action The
Last Knights
with Clive Owen and Morgan Freeman, family film Paper
Planes
starring Sam Worthington, thriller Reclaim
starring John Cusack, Outcast
starring Hyden Christiansen and Nicholas Cage, and the animated adventure Legend
of A Rabbit: Martial of Fire 3D
.

Clay
embarked on his film career in Los Angeles back in the days when Pulp Fiction
and El Mariachi were changing the playing field for independent cinema. His
broad experience in the film world equips him with a deeper and more
comprehensive understanding of the filmmaking process – a great advantage and
benefit for any of his clients. 

Clay
shares more about Arclight Films, his experience from the days of the indie
film explosion in Los Angeles, and why America’s television renaissance is
keeping the film business on its toes.

Please share an overview of
Arclight Films.

I joined Arclight Films just
over two years ago as Vice President of Sales and Acquisitions. Arclight was
started 12 years ago by Gary Hamilton, and is an Australian based company with
its headquarters in Los Angeles and offices in Sydney, London, Beijing, and
Toronto.

We have three divisions of
the company, which is more of a branding exercise. Arclight Films is the gold
standard, with titles like The Bank Job,
Lord of War,
and Predestination
under its banner.
 

Darclight is for the edgy
genre driven cinema, has nothing to do with budget level, but more with genre.
BAIT 3D, a 25 million dollar film under Darclight, was number one in the
Chinese box office last year. It also carries some of the best award-winning modest
budgeted horror films coming from the world of cinema right now. Wolf Creek 1 and
2
also fall under Darclight, as does Grave Encounters 1
& 2.
 

Our Easternlight division
focuses on Asian cinema. We’re representing the biggest films coming out of
Asia with names like Jet Li, Chow Yun Fat and Donnie Yen. We also sell
non-Asian cinema into Asia, and have an aggressive share in this market because
of the level of cinema that we’re selling.  Recent success includes Special
ID
starring Donnie Yen and Badges
of Fury
starring Jet Li.
 

What distinguishes Arclight in the global market? 

Let’s take China for
example. They’re looking at commercial films in the west more than
noncommercial films in China: cast driven, big budget commercial content,
special effects, branded content, 3D big movies, as well as the cast-driven Chinese
films. A Jet Li or Donnie Yen film, which might be a limited release in some
western territories, will be a number one film throughout Asia, and will earn millions
in the box office. We’re excelling in this market, because we truly understand
its stars, the content, the filmmakers and especially the cultural
idiosyncrasies – this sets us apart from the rest. 

We’re also closely tied to
the production aspects of half of our slate. This means a combination of
development, packaging, and co-production possibilities. There’s some
incredible cinema coming out of Australia right now. It’s a renaissance, and we
have many Australian co-productions with support from the Australian film
industry. We’re developing films that can be made in Australia’s film
infrastructure with budgets anywhere from 3-4 million up to 20-30 million. Our
recent success includes Predestination starring Ethan Hawke, A Few Best Men, and
the upcoming sequel A Few Less Men.  

We’re commercially driven;
we know what our distributors want and what the audience is drawn to. We want
to be able to make films that they’re interested in and that there’s a market
for. We’ll always have some art house films on the lineup because we’re all
cinephiles, and we need to support those filmmakers too.
 

How are sales going?

If I take a step back from
my sales agent role for a moment, the truth is that the market has become nothing
more than selective. Look at other industries. They’re selective as well: the
tech industry, the automotive industry, and the housing industry. If something
doesn’t work, if the TV breaks down, if the car does not meet consumer demand, they’re
not going to sell. If they’re not the right shape, and the color’s not good,
that TV just won’t sell. That’s what’s happening in the film industry. If the
films are not what the consumer necessarily wants to see, if the film was not produced
well, if the story is off, it’s the wrong genre for the market, it just won’t
do well.

The reason why everyone is
saying the market is tough is because yesteryear, you could sell a sub-par film
and make money on it. There was an appetite for pure content regardless of
quality. Today the challenge is to make a film within a manageable budget that
will appeal to a global audience. 
Unless you have a major hit on your hands, the obstacle we all face is
that the cost to produce a film continues to rise while the cost that
distributors will pay is creeping downwards. 

The market has become
selective. The consumers have other choices. They’re not going to sit in front
of the TV and watch movies all day. There are so many other things that they
can do, so we’re competing for their free time. We’re competing against apps
and videogames. We have TV with many amazing series–it’s the glory days of TV
again. People will sit and watch whole seasons of shows like Breaking Bad, so
we’re competing for this time as well. What we offer them better be good enough
to compete with all the other media that’s out there – that’s why we all say
that it’s getting tough.
 

What do you consider when reviewing potential films?

We all have responsibility to the company, to the
audience, to our distributors and our clients. When we evaluate a project,
we’re thinking whether or not there’s an audience. One of the first classes I
had in film school said the film is not a film until there’s an audience to see
it. That stuck with me. I still think about that when I’m evaluating a film. My
job is to get an audience for that film. What steps I’ll take to get there can
be placing it with the right distributor, finding the right festival to launch
it at, or finding the right publicist. You have to take different steps
depending on the film or the strategy, but my ultimate goal is to find the
audience and to identify its potential size. 

Please talk about Arclight’s current projects.

We have some projects in
postproduction including Outcast  with Nicholas Cage and Hayden Christensen, Reclaim with John Cusack and Ryan Philippe, and The Last Knights with Clive Owen
and Morgan Freeman. They have promos and trailers; we’ve been successful at
securing distribution. It’s thrilling to have seen those from go from script
stage and then all the way to completion. Nothing beats when you see
distributors lining up their release schedules.

We have some films in
development that we’ve just announced: Heart of Darkness and The Nest. I’m
looking forward to the next six to twelve months as these films come together.

There are projects that we
became involved in during production, and we’re lucky enough to be a part of,
like Tell, with Jason Lee and Milo Ventimiglia. The distributors’ response has
been extremely positive.

What is your background?

I wanted to be in the movie
business since day one. I never wanted to do anything else. There was a short
period when I wanted to be a psychologist, but that was an excuse to avoid
failure in what was then a less common field to major in.

I wanted to be an actor,
writer and filmmaker. I went to film school when Pulp Fiction came out and
Robert Rodriguez was making a name for himself. It was the birth of indie
cinema (it was a brand in the early 90’s), and I was right in that world as a
film student. I remember meeting Robert Rodriguez at a book signing for “Rebel
without a Crew” and he was incredibly inspiring. The possibilities seemed
endless. Everyone thought that they were going to be the next Tarentino. There
was a buzz! People were shooting all over LA, such as Paul Thomas Anderson and
Ben Stiller. There was a sense that film was breaking away from the studio
system, and everyone could go and make an indie film. Inexpensive broadcast
quality video was just about to break, but we were still dependent on film. 

I learned on 16mm and was
always in the labs at school. I spent more money on film processing at the labs
than on tuition. I was cutting negatives at the school all night long. There
was certainly encouragement to do things in a new and different way, but it’s
not really embraced when you try to do that in film school. There was a bit of
a contradiction there, and my inflated plan to become the next Woody Allen was
being stomped on. 

I did a few short films and
a feature. They were all horrible, but I learned the filmmaking process – that’s
what’s important. I wrote a script. I raised money, and I made it. I learned
that process, and I respect it so much; this helps me when I’m evaluating
projects and meeting filmmakers. I understand what it takes to make a movie.
It’s hard to make a good film, and it’s hard to make a bad film. It’s a
tireless endeavor, and probably one of the most difficult things that a person
could do. A filmmaker is so reliant on so many people, so much money and so
much time. I am incredibly sympathetic to the endeavor. 

Where does your drive come from? 

I get passionate for
everything I’m working on. I have to, because it influences everyone we work
with. Our success relies on this… we’re living in a parallel universe with
the studios that have the resources to create awareness for its products. They
have the marketing and publicity. Sometimes we don’t have those means for our
films, so we have to find creative ways to get them out there. This is where my
drive comes from.


Learn more about
Arclight’s current lineup.

More About Arclight:

Arclight Films is one of the
world’s leading international sales companies for theatrical, television and
home video. Arclight Films has sold over 150 motion pictures including the Best
Picture Oscar® winner Crash,
and Golden Globe® Best Picture Nominee Bobby.

Arclight Films additionally
encompasses subsidiary labels Darclight Films, the edgy genre-driven division
of the company whose films include the worldwide horror hit Wolf Creek, action thriller Bait 3D and a current slate
that includes Wolf Creek 2, and
Easternlight, a specialty arm showcasing Asian cinema with the largest film
library of any non Asian-based indie film label. Films sold under the
Easternlight banner include the worldwide blockbuster Forbidden Kingdom starring
Jackie Chan and Jet Li, 14
Blades
starring Donnie Yen, legendary auteur Chen
Kaige’s Sacrifice and
a live action adaptation of the world-renowned legend Mulan, now in pre-production. 

The latest additions to
Easternlight include Outcast starring
Nicholas Cage, now in post production, Special ID starring Donnie Yen, The Assassins starring Chow
Yun Fat and Cannes Film Festival “Directors Fortnight” official selection and
Toronto International Film Festival Gala Selection Dangerous Liaisons starring
Zhang Ziyi, Cecilia Cheung and Jang Dong Gun.

Some of the latest additions to
the Arclight Films’ slate include Last
Knights
starring Clive Owen and
Morgan Freeman, Predestination starring
Ethan Hawke, Reclaim starring
John Cusack, Paper Planes starring
Sam Worthington, and Left Behind starring Nicholas
Cage.

Arclight Films maintains a presence at all major
motion picture and television festivals and markets with offices in Los
Angeles, Sydney, Hong Kong, Beijing and Toronto.

 

For more information on Arclight Films, please
visit www.arclightfilms.com

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